Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Forging a democracy, one step at a time

Once a political prisoner during the Chinese Nationalist Party authoritarian era, lawyer-turned-politician Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen has personally witnessed the nation's democratic development over the years. `Taipei Times' staff reporter Ko Shu-ling recently talked with the former chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party to take a closer look at his view of democracy and the challenges that lie ahead for President Chen Shui-bian in his second term

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Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen speaks during an interview with the Taipei Times.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: In President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inauguration speech in May, he pledged to hand to the people of Taiwan a new version of the Constitution -- one that is "timely, relevant and viable." What is your definition of a constitution that meets the president's description?

Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文): A country's constitution has two fundamental meanings. It's not only the organic law of the government, but also a warranty for the people's rights.

A government organization is like the structure of a car. We need different kinds of vehicles when we're driving in different road conditions. For example, when we drive on a freeway, we need an automobile. When we drive on the farm, we need a tractor. When we drive in the snow, we need a snowmobile and if we drive in the desert, we need a four-wheel drive.

A "timely" constitution has to suit the needs of the current time as well as those of the nation and the people. As we are in an era of democracy and globalization, we desperately need to update the Constitution, which was enacted 57 years ago in China, or better yet replace it. Our Constitution has gone through six amendments over the past 13 years. It's time to rewrite the whole thing, which is the political norm in democratic countries.

A "relevant" constitution has to outline a clear-cut picture of the government structure, national boundaries, national flag and national moniker. The government structure of five branches mandated in the Constitution is not only outdated, but also unsuitable for Taiwan. We need a small but efficient government because Taiwan is, after all, a small country.

TT: President Chen also said in his inauguration speech that the legislature has to pass a constitutional amendment, which is something he said during the election campaign that he wouldn't do. Do you think he has changed his stance in the constitutional reform campaign?

Yao: What President Chen aspires to do is to implement a new version of the Constitution in 2008 when his second four-year term expires. That is not only his historic responsibility but also his commitment to the people.

The crux of the constitutional reform process is not parsing terms like "amending" or "creating" the Constitution, but rather, the crux of the matter is the legal procedure that must be followed in order for a new constitution to come into effect.

President Chen has made it clear in his inauguration speech that the procedure for constitutional reform first requires the passage of the constitutional amendments by the legislature.

Members of the first and also the last ad-hoc National Assembly would then be elected and charged with the task of adopting the constitutional reform proposal as passed by the legislature. They would also abolish the National Assembly and incorporate into the constitution the people's right to referendum on constitutional revision.

Of course, it will require a lot of public discussion and debate before the procedure and context of the Constitution are finalized.

TT: While President Chen has vowed that the new constitution will not deal with changes relating to sovereignty and territory issues, nor independence and unification issues, what in the Constitution do you think desperately requires overhaul?

Yao: There are three major areas: the national moniker, national boundaries and government structure.

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